Congressional fun facts of the day

Today at a talk I attended, a Senior Specialist in American National Government at the Congressional Research Service related the single most important factor to change the U.S. Congress since the 1960′s. It’s not the rise of cable news networks, the increase in bitter partisanship, or accelerating technological change. It’s the jet plane. The jet plane allows members of congress to take more trips home and spend less time in session. The number of trips per year was limited by internal rules for a while. The limit was increased and eventually gave way, culminating in the last Congress, when members typically only spent Tuesday to Thursday in Washington, heading home every Thursday afternoon. The extra time in the home district allowed them to be more available to constituents and more responsive during local crises. Of course, floor votes and committee meetings still had to be attended, so what aspect of congressional business was sacrificed for this compressed schedule? “Being informed,” says the Specialist. They used to hold hearings with experts to get informed on issues and legislation, but that became less and less common.

Later in the day, I heard a talk from U.S. Representative Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts) who informed us that Nancy Pelosi, upon becoming Speaker of the House, decided they needed to make up for a lot of lost time and one of her first actions was to institute a 5-day work week. The current Congress, apparently, is set to hit some record of most number of days in session. And they have been holding a lot of hearings. They heard testimony from the Administrator of the EPA, who, Markey says, hasn’t appeared before the committee in charge of EPA funding in any of the previous 6 years (which is rather amazing).

  1. #1 written by Moira September 11th, 2007 at 23:10

    Someone should point our representatives to the CO2 emissions stats for airplanes. Here’s some shaky, mostly uninformed math:

    (535 representatives + 100 senators) * 2 flights per week * 1600 miles (~half the width of the US) * (4×10^-5 tons CO2 per person per mile)

    = 81 tons CO2/week

    That doesn’t take the increased problems due to flight altitude and short plane trips into account, and the CO2 per person-mile is probably totally bogus. And there’s the whole tons/tonnes thing that I never understood. Someone with a degree in this stuff can correct me. But still. Hopefully the delegates from Guam and Samoa don’t fly home that often.

    Maybe they don’t need to improve CAFE standards; they just need to take fewer trips home.

    RE Q

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